iNaturalist: An AI-Powered App to Crow About on Earth Day

This April 22 put a little AI in your Earth Day.

Whether you’re cleaning up a beach, planting a tree or starting a garden, iNaturalist makes it easy to get in touch with nature.

iNaturalist is a crowd-sourced species identification app powered by AI. For the casual nature observer, the app allows people to snap photos of such easy targets as backyard plants and bugs and upload images for its AI to provide a match or for members of the community to identify.

The app is also a social network for nature enthusiasts to record information on species, meet others with similar interests and learn. It’s available on Android and iOS , where it’s already been downloaded nearly a million times.

It began as a website, iNaturalist.org, founded in 2008 by students at the University of California, Berkeley. Now it’s a joint program of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.

Previously it took 18 days on average for species to be identified by the website’s community. But that all changed after iNaturalist worked with researchers from Caltech and Cornell to build a computer vision AI into the app.

Now species can be identified in a matter of milliseconds, and much more accurately, with the use of AI, said Scott Loarie, co-director of iNaturalist.

“Our goal is to get millions of people outside exploring and connecting to nature and engage them to become lifelong stewards of the natural world,” Loarie said.

People mostly put up observations of plants to iNaturalist, but posts of birds, insects and other organisms can be found as well.

The app harnesses NVIDIA GPUs and the CUDA deep neural network library along with the TensorFlow deep learning framework, allowing training of the neural networks on a database of images that have been labeled by the site’s community of experts.

Today iNaturalist boasts 8.6 million observations uploaded and more than 155,000 species observed.

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